Daniel Fernandes Quit Advertising to take up Comedy

Daniel Fernandes

The little reading that I’ve done about you clearly suggests that you quit advertising to pursue a career in comedy. Why such a drastic change?
I had reached a point in my life where I wasn’t happy with where my career was heading. Basically I wanted a job that didn’t start before lunch, something that was creatively stimulating, with a lot of travel and one that had a flexible leave policy (read “take leave whenever I want”).

More so the idea of working for someone else was just not rewarding enough. I always knew I would eventually end up doing something of my own. The fact that it turned out to be comedy was a pleasant surprise.

I have to love what I’m doing otherwise I just can’t do it. Money is not motivation enough.

What do you love most about being a comedian?
I love everything from the travel, meeting so many people to the sheer fun that I have every time I’m on stage. It’s great to be a part of the English comedy revolution in India because we’re right at the forefront of it all. Everything we do today sets the tone for and builds the industry tomorrow. Where else would you get a chance to build an industry as opposed to trying to fit in to an existing one? It’s quite an enviable position, one that I’m grateful to be in.

How did you get yourself to quit a fulltime job?
I was working for an ad film production house called Ravi Deshpande Pictures. The decision to quit the fulltime was more organic than anything else. I knew I wanted to do something of my own. The timing of the comedy scene and a couple of other personal situations gave me that push I needed to make that leap. There has been no looking back since.

How challenging was the transition from advertising to comedy?
The transition was more lifestyle in nature than professional. It took some time to get used to not having a pay check at the end of the month. The initial 8 months or so in terms of financial security were quite rough. I took up odd writing jobs to pay the bills while I did open mics on the side to get better as a comic.

August 2012 was when things turned around for me and I was then able to focus entirely on comedy. I still feel I have only just started and there is still so much to do.

You’ve studied computer science. Then an MBA in advertising. What did you actually want to pursue?
I had absolutely no idea to be honest. And I’m thankful for that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. As a society we are conditioned to stick to the mould, play it safe and live a tried and tested life.

I just reached a point where I was plateaued with my first job, which led me to do my MBA, where other areas of marketing initially caught my fancy. During these two years of college I tried stuff I never thought I would. I got involved in wildlife conservation (specifically snakes), began to host a lot of events, did a short stint in radio all of which led me to find out more about what I really saw myself doing.

Stand-Up happened purely by accident, something I did for the fun of it and now I cannot imagine doing anything else.

Not knowing what I wanted was perhaps the best thing for me.

You were apparently a snake-catcher in college. Tell us more about this. 
Part of my curriculum during my MBA required me to do a social internship. I opted to work for a wildlife NGO based in Goa where I worked closely with snakes. The understanding of these marvelous animals got me obsessed with them.

Later when I returned to college in Pune, which is located on the outskirts of the city in the hills I was pleased to find that we had a lot of snakes around us. I was in charge of rescuing and relocating any snakes that strayed into campus. It just stuck from then on. So I get involved in rescues and spread awareness about snakes as and when I can.

Where did you complete your schooling and college?
I studied at Holy Family High School in Porvorim and then St. Xaviers, Mapusa.

Now since you’ve established yourself as a comedian, how are you executing this skill?
I just perform as often as I can, all over the country. Besides Stand-Up, I also write for a comedy show called ‘Son Of Abish’, co-founded a musical comedy collective called ‘The Yellow Experiment’ and work as a producer with Vir Das’ Weirdass Comedy.

What is the skill-set one should possess to become a stand-up comedian?
You need to have a lot of guts to begin with. It’s not easy to get up on stage all by yourself, speak to a large crowd and make them laugh consistently every 20 to 30 seconds.

In terms of a skill set I’d say good writing and public speaking ability form the core, surrounded by a sharp sense of observation and understanding of the world, people and emotions.

Additional qualities like having a strong mindset that can deal with rejection and failure and a lot of discipline will take you a long way.

Stand-Up is a very scientific process. Every word, pause and its delivery is crucial in getting it right, which is why it takes years to get anywhere close to good. There is no room to get complacent. This is what makes it a lot of fun.

When did you launch your own comedy production company and why?
I launched Microphone Entertainment in mid 2012 with the aim of curating comedy shows and getting exposure beyond the only comedy club around at the time; The Comedy Store. There were a lot of us only just starting out at that time but there were no stages to perform which was slowing down growth.

Microphone Entertainment was able to set up comedy properties across Mumbai and Pune which played a small role in building up the scene. Presently, we continue to curate our most successful comedy property, ‘Freakin Highlarious’ at High Spirits Pune.

What is the purpose/ mission of your company?
We started with the vision of taking Stand-Up to places that have seen little or none of this great art form. This was made possible by setting up comedy properties across Mumbai and Pune. We also worked with brands who wanted to leverage comedy and set up tours in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata.

We’re a one stop shop for anybody looking to have a comedy event programmed and executed at their own venue or company premises.

The long term plan is to be a comedy powerhouse centered around live shows and hopefully someday even produce online content and films.

What is the process you follow to put together an act?
It all starts from ideas or observations that I think might be funny. I write them down and develop jokes or bits around them. The bit is then tested at an open mic to see how it works with audiences. It then goes back to a rewrite until all unnecessary words are dropped and the ones that remain are arranged and delivered in such a way that you get a laugh.

This is an ongoing process that is followed and then you eventually end up having a good 30 minutes of material which is when you become a commercially viable comic.

Stand-Up is a lot like music. Just like a band that has a setlist of songs they take on stage, comics have a setlist of jokes that they choose from. Over time, new jokes will be added and existing ones will evolve.

The material also changes as the comic himself evolves in life and is a reflection of his own reality.

Since you’re jump to the comedy world, what have you done to promote yourself?
To begin with, as you get booked for shows the promoters themselves market you which starts the initial awareness. With social media like Twitter and Facebook, self-promotion becomes easier and costs nothing. I’ve recently been signed on by The Canvas Laugh Factory who now manage me, so building me as a brand is now a collaborative effort between them and me.

Tell us about your first gig. Were you nervous? How did the audience welcome your work?
My first gig was during my MBA at SIMC Pune. I’ve been on stage pretty much all my life but this was the most nervous I have ever been. It was just me on stage, no back up, mic in hand, trying to make over 200 people laugh. It was quite a sinking feeling but I told myself that if I could get through this, I could get through anything. Thankfully it went well. I still get a wee bit nervous seconds before I go on stage, which is a good thing, because it keeps you grounded teaches you not to take things for granted.

Now tell us about how you grew over the last two years.
After I quit my job I performed at open mics and showcase gigs that featured upcoming comics. Starting my own comedy properties was a big help. I got on stage more often, got more confident and then built my solo career from there.

Once I got to 30 minutes, I became a regular feature act at The Comedy Store, Canvas Laugh Factory and other venues across the country. Corporate shows also started pouring in.

I’m currently juggling various roles (solo artist, writer, producer and musician) so that I believe will be the next step of my growth. It’ll be interesting to see what I can do with it.

You said you were born in Bombay, but spend a good amount of time in Goa. Does this stay in Goa contribute to your scripts in any way?
To some extent. I do talk about my life in Goa in my set. Having lived there for so long it gives me a unique perspective that differs from the regular tourist one. It’s all subjective and depends on where I want to take my comedy. But on a personal level, yes my time in Goa has made a huge impact on who I am today, including that guy you see on stage.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Ambitious. Stubborn. Restless.

How does it feel to face an audience that’s expecting a good amount of humour to spread through the room?
Comedy is my career now. I have made my peace with audience expectations. My job is to entertain, so every time I get on stage I make sure I do what needs to be done. Eventually, it’s just like any other job, except that it is way more fun. Do I think I’m meeting all expectations? The fact that I have a busy calendar possibly suggests that I’m getting a few things right.

But I never get complacent. I will always be work in progress. There is no time to sit down and bask in adulation. It’s about getting better and better. It never ends.

What’s your take on stand-up comedy in India?
The growth of Stand-Up is good news for everyone. It’s been long overdue. We’re a country filled with so much of fodder for every emotion conceivable, why must laughter be left far behind? Comedy is a great stress buster which can be used both for entertainment as well as social commentary.

There are many reasons for this growth. Comedy sells itself. If packaged and delivered correctly (which is happening) it is a brilliant value proposition. Do you know anyone who does not like a good laugh? Neither do I.

I believe the next decade is going to be about alternative careers. For the first time in this country we are witnessing so many young people taking up their passions and turning them into successful businesses. Comedy is at the helm of this trend.

Where all have you travelled spreading laughs and giggles?
I’ve performed in every major city in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Coimbatore, Kochi and Goa.  This Easter, I will be performing at the Utrecht International Comedy Festival in the Netherlands followed by shows in Amsterdam. There are a few other international tours in the pipeline as well. Ultimately the plan is to do this as far and wide as possible.

Any plans of taking this to Goa?
I have a done a couple of shows in Goa. There are plans to bring Stand-Up to Goa in a big way but it may still be a while before that happens. This is a very different market so when we get here we want to make sure we do it right.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
I have a vague idea. It has something to do with a mic, a stage, airports, 5 star hotels and hopefully a fancy sports car or two.

Whatever it is I’m doing five years from now, I want to have fun doing it, I want to give my family a good life and if I’ve entertained a few people along the way I’ll be a happy comedian, always hungry for more.

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